New Mexico preschool funding proposal clears House

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018 12:31 PM

SANTA FE – House lawmakers on Tuesday approved a plan to increase funding for early childhood education in New Mexico by distributing more money from a multibillion dollar state sovereign wealth fund.

The House voted 36-33 on Tuesday in favor of the constitutional amendment to increase annual distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1 percent.

The measure now moves the Senate, where a similar measure stalled last year.

Supporters say a substantial increase in state spending is needed to improve and expand preschool education.

Critics say the plan risks drawing too much money each year from a fund seen as a trust for future generations. The fund receives royalties from oil and natural gas production on state trust land, while current distributions benefit public schools and hospitals.

Approval by the Legislature would set up a statewide vote in November. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration is seeking more general fund spending for early childhood education but opposes greater investment withdrawals. Constitutional amendments do not require the governor’s signature.

Martinez and the Democrat-led Legislature are seeking at least $25 million in new general fund spending for early childhood programs, as independent research highlights the importance of learning before kindergarten.

An additional 1 percent distribution from the investments would provide about $175 million a year.

“We have generations of poverty and decades of dysfunction that we must overcome,” said Rep. Anthony Maestas, a lead sponsor of the amendment. “We have a $17 billion land grant permanent fund specifically allocated to educational purposes in New Mexico.”

New Mexico is one of several states where courts are being called upon to shore up funding for public schools as frustration mounts with elected officials over state budget priorities and the quality of education.